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How to feed an entire NFL team during Training Camp

How much food does it take to keep a 330 pound man going through workouts, practices, and team meetings? A lot! Here is a look at what the Chargers are eating at the Bolts training camp.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The State of Football Nutrition

Training camp and the nutrition regimen in those camps has changed a lot in my lifetime.  Camps were traditionally held at smaller colleges (such as UCSD), the players slept in dorms, and the food was typical college institutional style cafeteria food.  In the era of free agency, a team's camp environment and facilities have become an important part of luring free agents to your team.

Teams started moving camps to dedicated facilities (like Charger Park) or their home stadiums.  College dorms were replaced by hotels close to where the team would practice and work-out.  Cafeteria food was replaced by cuisine prepared by the professional chefs at the hotels or by outside catering services.  By the mid-90's the camp experience was light years away from the 6 weeks of hell popular with coaches in the 1960's and 70's.

Along with the improvement in the quality of the food be served (in terms of flavor and preparation), the players and coaches became more concerned about the nutritional content of what they are eating.  The industrial sized steam table vats of fried chicken, acres of french fries, and orchards worth of apple pies have been replaced by piles of grilled chicken, paddies of brown rice, and fountains of frozen yogurt parfaits in most training camps.

Virtually every camp has an extensive fruit and salad bar (for every meal) and offers whole grain breads and pasta, brown rice, chicken and fish, and fruit juices pretty much every time food is served.  The demand for this type of food has come from the players more than the coaches, although there are some notable exceptions (Philadelphia).

Several teams use nutritionists that are either full - time members of the strength and conditioning staff; McCoy brought in one when he took over in 2013.  Most teams at least have a consulting nutritionist.  While things at most teams are not to the level that Chip Kelly installed in Philadelphia (where the micro managing of nutrition includes measuring each player's water intake and urine production, with a strictly controlled and monitored diet), things are moving that direction in the NFL.

The Chargers do not practice that level of control over the players' nutrition at training camp.  According to team sources, the players will work with the conditioning staff and the nutritionist to derive a nutrition plan to add, maintain, or lose weight.  The team will monitor the player's weight and conditioning during camp.  Meals at camp are eaten together, so coaches and the training staff can observe what the players are eating.

Food Service Charger Style

The food served to the team has been a somewhat touchy subject with the team since Antonio Cromartie fired off a tweet during the 2009 training camp wondering if the "nasty food" at training camp had kept the team from winning the Super Bowl in the prior few years.  To their credit, the team did make some changes quickly in 2009 and the quality of the food since then seems to be high.

The team uses caterers and chefs from the Brigantine restaurant family.  The local eateries under the Brigantine label include the flagship location, plus Miquel's Cocina, and The Steakhouse At Azul.  During training camp, those caterers serve breakfast, lunch, and an evening snack at the hotel where the team stays during camp (the Mission Valley Hilton) just down the street from Charger Park.  Dinner is served at Charger Park during camp.

During the season, the team uses caterers from Pehoe's (in Coronado) to prepare breakfast at the team facility.  Fridays during camp and the season, the team will bring in a special meal from a local restaurant; Hodad's Burgers or Phil's BBQ were specifically mentioned.  During training camp, meals are provided for between 150 - 200 people 4 times a day, everyday; players, coaches, staff, and VIP guests.  As is the case with most of the training camp meals, the players are about half of the people fed, but they end up eating most of the food laid out.

How Much Do These Guys Eat?

There is actually quite a bit of variation from player to player.  A look at the Bolts roster reveals that the lightest player currently on the team is Manuel Asprilla, a CB buried pretty far down the depth chart.  He weighs in at 180 pounds.  The heaviest player is DJ Fluker.  The big RT is listed at 339 by team (although the UT reported that he weighed in at 342 at the start of camp).

Every player is in a different situation in terms of conditioning.  Some (like Fluker) are trying to lose weight (to get down to 330) during the preseason.  Others (like Melvin Ingram) are trying to maintain a weight they achieved in their own offseason conditioning programs, while getting into football shape during camp.  Finally, for guys like Asprilla, they are probably trying to put on some weight to compete in the NFL.  All are using their bodies a lot during camp, with morning work - outs, side work, and afternoon practices.  This drastically increases the player's need for calories.

According to the nutritionist for the Colts, the ranges of calories needed during camp are:

Lose Weight - 13-17 calories per pound

Maintain Weight - 17-20 kcal./lb.

Add Weight - 20-25 kcal./lb.

Using a 15 kcal./lb. formula for DJ Fluker, that indicates a daily calorie intake of 5,100.

This is a sample daily meal plan for consuming 5,000 calories in a day:

Breakfast:  4 Whole Eggs, Turkey Sausage or Lean Ham, Protein Powder - 2 scoops, Skim Milk 2% - 12 ounces, Banana, Natural Peanut Butter - 1 tablespoon, 1 cup of Oatmeal (cooked)

Lunch:  Top Sirloin Steak - 12 ounces, Brown Rice - 2 cups, Sweet Potato, Protein Powder - 2 scoops, Skim Milk 2% - 12 ounces, Natural Peanut Butter - 1 tablespoon

Dinner:  Lean Ground Beef - 7% fat - 8 oz., 1 cup of Whole Wheat Pasta, sauce, Grilled Salmon - 10 oz., Brown Rice - 2 Cups, Veggies/Small Salad

That will give the big guy a little wiggle room (100-200 calories) for an evening snack; probably frozen yogurt (with toppings) or a fruit tart.

The situation for Ryan Carrethers is a little different.  At 330 pounds, he is looking to maintain that weight, but is still probably interested in getting even stronger and reaching peak conditioning.  He probably has a daily calorie intake requirement to meet those goals of around 6,200.

Here's an example of a 5,700 - 6,000 cals/day meal plan:

Breakfast:  1 Whole Wheat Bagel, 6 Whole Eggs, 3 strips of thick cut applewood smoked bacon, 2 cups of oatmeal (cooked), 1 slice of cheddar cheese, 2 bananas, 24oz of chocolate milk, 12 oz of yogurt (greek yogurt and yoplait), 2 scoop of protein powder, 2 tbsp of PB, 12oz of pineapple, 1 cup of blueberries, 1 apple (The protein powder and some of the fruit and yogurt may be a post workout recovery snack, usually taken in the form of a smoothie.)

Lunch - 12oz of lean ground beef, 2 cups of brown rice, 1 tbsp of olive oil, 2 cup of spinach, 1 cup of mushrooms, 1 cup of strawberries

Dinner -  16oz. of steak, 2 cup of brown rice, 1 tbsp of olive oil, 1 cup of spinach, 1 cup of bell peppers, 1 cup of mushrooms

Dessert - Box of Skinny Cow Ice Cream Sanwiches w/ 2% milk or pint of regular ice cream

This would still leave "Stronk" Ryan Carrethers somewhere in the range of 200-500 calories SHORT of his daily requirement.  DJ can watch Ryan eat a corn dog or two while he enjoys his fro-yo.

Both of these men are on the upper end of the calorie budgets on the team.  Most of the guys on the team are eating a little more than most typical adults are eating, but still...  A 250 linebacker (like Manti Te'o) that wants to maintain their weight does need to consume 5,000 calories a day.  The amount of food that is prepared and served to the team is astounding.

1,200 pounds of chicken a week.  100 gallons of fruit juices a week.  500 pounds of fresh vegetables are consumed off of salad bars each week of camp and another 300 pounds of fruit.  1,500 eggs.  These are some of the numbers mentioned in other articles about the food services around the NFL in camp season.  Bon Apetit!